Food as a Cultural Awakening
attendees were introduced to a variety of foods from distant lands at
various concessions and exhibits. These included chilies and tamales from
Mexico, tea flavored ice cream at Fair Japan, red peppers and tropical
products from across Latin America, and a host of beverages.
One can easily imagine
the rich blend of smells that emanated from various kitchens and cooking
Exposition-goers were exposed to these new and sometimes unusual foods
at numerous venues, although most were concentrated in the area of the
Midway. "Fair Japan," "Darkest Africa," "the
Beautiful Orient"these exhibits all introduced the foods of
their respective cultures to the fair's visitors. The types of foods served,
some prepared with seasonings unfamiliar to most North Americans probably
shocked many a conservative palette.
The "Streets of Mexico"
Hank, the protagonist in Thomas Fleming's Around the Pan with Uncle
Hank, sampled most of the ethnic foods available on the Midway.
This passage describes his first encounter with Mexican food:
"A pretty little
Mexican maiden brought him a 'bill of fare,'but as the dishes were of
Mexican manufacture, Uncle Hank was for a moment non-plused;
In glancing over the list of edibles, he discovered the word beans;
that was enough for him,
he concluded to "go it," but
the first mouthful caused him to open wide his capacious mouth and emit
a yell that caused a salvo of laughter from the other diners in the
restaurant. The dish he had ordered was concocted by stewing a large
Mexican bean with a profusion of red pepper and other hot and spicy
ingredients, and unless one is accustomed to such food is very apt to
prove surprising at the first trial, and this proved to be the case
with Uncle Hank." 1
Uncle Hank's reaction to
Uncle Hank describes
additional experiences with Pan-American Exposition's ethnic restaurants,
(see Restaurant Experiences of "Uncle
Hank") and in the process, betrays many of the ethnic and racial
stereotypes and prejudices so commonplace in 1901 America.
The Midway looking north
Map of the Midway
Clarence J. Selby wrote about his
visit to the Exposition in Echoes of the Rainbow City, and describes
his rather unexpected introduction to a Mexican "delicacy":
"Streets of Mexico" is a man who sells candy and, to add
to the attractions of his place, he has purchased two fine Mexican
cactus plants. There are four Mexican brothers who play the marimbon.
One is named Carlos Oivera. He found a long-missed dainty. He had
been casually examining one of the newly-arrived cacti when he discovered
in one of the fat leaves a small, dark spot. It was a sign of the
"gusano," a delicacy greatly relished by the Mexicans,
who rushed from all quarters upon hearing Carlos cry "gusano."
He wished then that he had kept silent, but he whipped his knife
out of his pocket and before any one could interrupt him had dug
out a fat white worm as long as a man's finger. "Bueno! Bueno!"
he exclaimed, as he thrust the squirming worm into his mouth. "Bah!"
said an American who stood near, making a wry face, "No, senor,"
said Carlos, in his broken English, "Bueno, very good; nice,
clean; taste like butter." Whether it tasted like butter or
not Carlos ate it with a relish and was watched with envy by every
other Mexican who saw him eat it. 2
Performers on the Streets of Mexico
also talks of his impressions of "Fair Japan":
"Jap" that showed us over the place
showed us some
beautiful articles of furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and
a Japanese suit of armor. I cannot describe half of the lovely things
contained in that pretty little house.
But one thing seemed to me very strange; no chairs and tables like
we use, The kitchen contained a cook stove which was a strange affair,
so low down that a person would have to sit down to cook on it.
They tell me the Japanese place cushions upon the floor and sit
upon them with their feet underneath them when they dine. There
were many cooking utensils in the kitchen. All were very sweet and
I have one
very dear friend who is a Japanese professor in the Imperial school
at Tokio, Japan. He both speaks and writes several languages.
He has told me much about Japan.
The following is a description of a Japanese society dinner:
Upon entering the hall the small servants go down on "all
fours" by way of salutation, remove the shoes of the guests
and escort them to the dining-room with no chairs or tables in
it but covered with clean white mats. A circle of flat cushions
mark the places for the guests to occupy. Each one sitting upon
his heels. Then in comes the little musumese, or servants, with
all they serve tea in tiny, beautiful cups without any handles
on them, and confectionery shaped like pretty leaves or pink blossoms
which look very artistic. Then before each guest is placed a small
lacquered table about a foot high holding several small dishes
containing the following articles of diet: A small piece of lobster,
half a small bird, two sugar-coated Irish potatoes, a small dark
bowl of sauce, some slices of raw fish, some preserved cherries
and chestnuts and a bowl of brown soup with pieces of fish floating
in it. This the natives eat with chopsticks. Then boiled eel on
soy. The rice wine is served in slender, long-necked vases. At
a signal the musumese retire to the end of the apartment.
One side of the room the wall slides back and reveals a picturesque
group of exquisitely dressed girls. They are the "maikos"
or dancing girls and their accompanists, the "geishas."
The girls, with their most beautiful fans gently waving as they
pose in graceful attitudes, are a very pretty sight. They dance
to the music of the instrument called the samisen. After they
have danced the screens are drawn and the guests continue their
dinner. Other dances follow at intervals until rice is brought
in, which is the last course and the dinner is over. 3
"Darkest Africa" exhibit was one of the most fascinating and
unusual to Exposition visitors. At the same time, it was also the attraction
most maligned in the contemporary attitude and popular print. Clarence
Selby writes: "... entering 'Darkest Africa,' where the most unlovely
were the greatest attractions. I did not feel at all inclined to handle
the black dwarfs and pygmies who inhabit this village of 'Darkest Africa.'...
They may be all very nice in their own way, but I would not care to
associate with them. However, it was very nice that the concessionaires
brought them here so that people might have the opportunity to see them
and learn of their habits and customs."4
Scenes from "Darkest Africa"
Commercial article of 10 July 1901 describes dinner at the African
Village Pavilion. Indeed, "Darkest Africa" brought sights
and smells never before experienced in Buffalo"
savory odor of African stew drove the visitors out of the African
village pavilion, yesterday, to where the cooks were busy at the
open fire preparing their dinners. The people crowded around the
huts and seemed very much amused at the sight of a big Ogowe warrior,
sitting on the ground in front of his fire, skimming the stew
with as much care as a cooking school graduate. The stew is made
by boiling round steak and fresh fish together. A cupful of tomatoes
and one onion chopped fine are added to the boiling meat, with
a tablespoon of curry and a generous dash of red pepper. The whole
is thickened with flour. It makes a very appetizing dish. The
ration for one native for one day consists of two pounds of meat
or fish, yams or white potatoes, a loaf of bread, coffee, six
bananas and two oranges. Each native had a knife, fork, and spoon,
and each has to wash his own dishes. The cool weather has been
very hard on the Africans and every precaution has been taken
to keep them from catching cold, extra blankets and fires being
the order of the day."
Hank Stops for a Bite at Alt Nürnberg for a somewhat less flattering
description of the German eatery.
Food at Alt Nürnberg
Nürnberg had the largest restaurant on the Midway and served traditional
German cuisine. Numerous articles describe this restaurant although
all convey the fact that this was one of the more expensive and upscale
dining establishments at the Exposition. Mary Bronson Hart wrote, "The
problem of dinner at the Pan-American is one of grave importance. If
you are careless of expense it is easy to be happy; you dine at
Alt Nürnberg, or up in the Tower, or at the American Inn."5
The "Indian Congress" and Village
Indian Congress attraction introduced visitors to 42 different tribes
of North American Indians. As with most of the culture-based Midway
"exhibits," the Indian Congress was wrought with ethnic and
racial stereotypes, the most blatant being the reference to the participants
as "savages" and the daily sham "battle" between
the savage natives and the United States Army. Despite this, the Indian
Village did afford visitors a chance to see some of the customs of individual
tribes close-up. In his introduction to the Historical Biography
and Libretto of the Indian Congress, Frederick T. Cummins writes
of the Native participants,
at the Indian Congress and on exhibition in the Indian Village,
they will live in their primitive way in tepees, wickiups, and adobe
houses, and afford the public a rare opportunity for the study of
their traits and characteristics; their habits, sports and pastimes;
their rites, ceremonies and dances.
Their domestic and industrial life is represented by the
curing of meat, the preparation of meal, the splitting of wood,
the setting up of tepees. The squaws do all this, besides the ornamental
work, such as beading, making moccasins, lottery and clothing; weaving
blankets and making baskets, and adding to the personal adornment
of their lords while they sit around, talk, smoke, and paint their
faces and bodies for the dance or battle.
Most visitors to these Midway attractions were aware that the Native
Americans living in these "primitive ways" were indeed, performing.
Although the promotion of such stereotypes and generalizations would
be considered offensive today, the concessionaires were giving the paying
public of 1901 what they wanted. Indeed, many paying customers were
probably disappointed to find that in reality, the "savages"
they encountered were really not all that different than themselves.
watching some women over at the Indian village. They were holding
their skirts daintily away and were peering into greasy old kettles
that some squaws were stirring.
it awful to be obliged to eat that sculch?" said the fair
later the women were angry because the Indians were eating dinners
sent in from a restaurant. The visitors declared that it spoiled
the realism to find that the Indians were not eating the food
they cooked themselves
Natives of the Esquimaux village dining "behind the scenes"
a somewhat different perspective of what the public saw,
or expected of the seal-hunting, kayaking, whalebone-carving people
of the frozen north (right).
Exposure to Cultural
Foods Not Limited to the Midway
much of the more exotic cultural cuisine was available in the restaurants
of the Midway, agricultural and processed food products specific to
the countries of Canada and Latin America were exhibited elsewhere on
the Exposition grounds. Sizable exhibits of individual countries were
mounted in sections of the larger exhibition buildings. For instance,
Mexico and Canada both had exhibit space for food products in the Agriculture
and Horticulture Buildings. Most of the smaller countries, however,
exhibited foodstuffs in the buildings commissioned by their respective
The Official Catalogue
of the Mexican Exhibits at the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo
proudly introduces readers to the agricultural products exhibited by
Mexico in the Agriculture Building:
we are to examine now the various products that make up the important
division of foods, we will see figuring prominently an extensive
collection of coffee; there are samples
on exhibition coming from each one of the states producers of
that rich grain, and it is a fact well known that since the Brazilian
crisis stimulated the production, Mexico has notably enhanced
her coffee plantations, and this is now one of the most important
articles of export. In competition with all the other coffee producing
countries, Mexico has obtained the highest awards for her coffee
in all the expositions that have been held up to the present time.
is a product which also promises a great future in Mexico, and
is exhibited by a varied collection together with chocolate manufactured
by two of the most important factories in Mexico.
the great competition that sugar cane
has been subjected to on account of the increase in the production
of sugar beets, it still holds its place vigorously, and is the
foundation of inexhaustable richness throughout the vast territories
of the States of Morelos, Veracruz, Puebla, Jalisco, and many
others. As a complementary to the sugar industry we might mention
the production of alcohol, although only when employed in certain
industries, it pertains to this division.
and varied collection of liquors is
also worthy of special attention, because the fruits from which
they are prepared in factories of the best established reputation,
are equally abundant. National beverages on exhibition, such as
"pulque," which is the
favorite drink of the people, should not be passed unnoticed.
'This "pulque" is exhibited through a special process
of preservation. Beer, whose consumption
is increasing daily, receives such impulse in Mexico that it can
be stated that there is not a state in the Republic without a
brewery, some of them with more than $1,000,000 invested.
information is at least a brief outline of the agricultural resources
of Mexico, and reveals, as we have already said, the great evolution
that has taken place throughout the country within the last few
years by the impulse of the vigorous administration of one of
the greatest statisticians of the present time.
inspection of the products exhibited by Mexico in the Department
of Agriculture, will fully demonstrate the vast field of action
she has for enterprising men. 8
From a cultural
perspective, the impression given by these exhibits is certainly different
than that found in "The Streets of Mexico" attraction on the
Midway. Of course, the purpose of such exhibits was not to entertain,
but to promote the country and its products in an attempt to increase
trade and investment. Below, the Comisión Nacional de los Estados
Unidos Mexicanos para la Exposición Pan-Americana describes the
pomological and viticulture exhibits in the Mexico section of the Horticulture
Building. Here, visitors learned that the United State's southern neighbor
produced more than just tequila. Few visitors were likely to have predicted
that a century later, the United States would be the largest importer
of fruits and vegetables produced in Mexico.
and apricots are produced in abundance
for the local markets, but no efforts have been made for drying
and preserving these fruits on a large scale. In some sections the
fruits are rich and of very fine flavor on account of the good soil
and limited rain. The States of Coahuila and Chihuahua possess large
tracks of lands where pomology could be engaged in extensively to
good profit, if proper plants were erected for the drying and evaporating
of the surplus fruit. Grapes are also
produced in abundance and excellent wine is
manufactured in the State of Coahuila, but not yet sufficient to
meet the demand, as large quantities are imported.
Mexico exhibit in the Agriculture Building
To the east and west of the table lands, on the slopes of the Gulf
and the Pacific, is the region for the production of tropical fruits-bananas,
limes, and citrus family in general;
chirimoyas and anona species grown luxuriantly. With the exception
of oranges at certain seasons of the year no other fruits are cultivated
recently, the truck farmer has established in the State of Tamaulipas
experimental farms for the cultivation of tomatoes-farms
that have become practical and profitable, as already carloads are
sent early to market for export. Later, probably, the truck farmer
of Mexico will export also cucumbers,
and melons in winter, as it is at this
season that these vegetables are cultivated to greater advantage.
It will be some time, however, before other fruits and vegetables
will be exported; the excessive express rates are almost prohibitive
for their profitable cultivation. Another great drawback to the
industry is the costly packing of fruits and vegetables.
in Mexico is obtaining a gradual and steady development, and the
local consumption of wines and liquors is also attaining a great
The country already produces red and white
wines of extra fine quality, but still imports from foreign
countries more than $2,200,000 worth of these same wines each year.
The production of "pulque,"
the popular and national drink (made of liquids extracted from the
agave tree), reached the enormous figure of 3,000,000 hectoliters
In this Republic is also produced wines of agreeable odor and delicious
flavor made from quince, orange, and pineapple fruits.
Many modern establishments in Mexico are entirely given up to the
manufacture of all kinds of liquors and alcohols. "Tequila,"
already well known in the United States, is one of the principal
alcoholic drinks manufactured and consumed in Mexico. 9
Descriptions of the food product exhibits of other countries represented
at the Pan-American Exposition will be added to this site as they become
1. Thomas Fleming. Around the
Pan with Uncle Hank: His Trip Through the Pan-American Exposition.
New York: The Nut Shell Publishing Co., 1901.
2. Clarence J Selby. Echoes From the Rainbow
City. Chicago : Travelers Bureau, 1902. p. 48. Selby was a blind,
deaf, mute who visited the Exposition accompanied by aids. Many of his
observations are based in part on the descriptions provided to him by
those assistants and the people he encountered at the Exposition. Thus,
his writings are as much a reflection of the society around him as they
are his own attitudes.
The line drawing illustration of the Mexican man is from Thomas Fleming's
Around the "Pan." With the exception of the Midway
map, all line illustrations on this web page are attributed to Fleming.
3. Selby, pp. 56-58.
4. Ibid., pp. 64, 71.
5. Mary Bronson Hartt. "How
to See the Pan-American Exposition," Everybody's Magazine,
v. 5, no. 26 (October 1901): 488-491.
T Cummins. Historical Biography and Libretto of the Indian Congress.
F. Day. "Three Pilgrims at the 'Pan.'" Everybody's Magazine,
vol. 5, no. 26 (October 1901) p. 427.
8. Mexico. Comisión Nacional de los Estados
Unidos Mexicanos para la Exposición Pan-Americana de Buffalo,
N.Y. Official catalogue of the Mexican exhibits at the Pan-American
Exposition at Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A. May first to November first 1901.
Buffalo : The White-Evans-Penfold, 1901. pp. 5-6.
to Food and Drink at the Pan-American Exposition